What Prayer Is (Part Two): A Two-Way Street

Part 2 in a series on the nature of prayer. Check out the introductory post What Is Prayer? for more background, or go here to see all of the posts in this series so far.

There’s an old saying that goes something like: “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It’s cliche, but it underscores an important aspect of prayer: it’s a two-way street.

Prayer is a dialogue between man (or woman) and God, which implies that both you and He must be fully engaged in order for a prayer to be effective. A philosophical hero of mine, Martin Buber, spent a lot of time thinking and writing about dialogue. Buber described dialogue as a sacred process in which a conversations’ participants open themselves to one another, using the illustration of a “narrow, rocky ridge… where there is no sureness of expressible knowledge but the certainty of meeting what remains undisclosed.” In real dialogue, in other words, we respect others exactly as much as ourselves, considering their perspective as valid as our own and treating conversation as an opportunity to discover them and, in doing so, ourselves.

You know that thing we all do during a conversation, where we listen out of just one ear and split our attention between nodding along and thinking about what we’re going to say next? That’s not dialogue. And we don’t just do that we our friends and spouses and co-workers. We do it with God, too. But we shouldn’t. If prayer is going to be effective, and if we really intend prayer as a way to communicate with God (and not just to cross it off our daily to-do list), then it has to be authentically dialogic.

When you next set aside time to pray, spend some of that time listening in silence. And be willing to accept whatever you hear, because it might just be God revealing his true self to you. You might not like what you hear – it might be painful – but it’s probably exactly what you need to hear, and you’ll grow from the hearing of it. Also, try to be your most authentic self in prayer. Open yourself to God. Again, painful. But worth it.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What is prayer to you? What have you heard while praying? Let us know in the comments section below. I’m hoping to gather your thoughts, questions, and reflections on prayer and present them in the final “chapter” of this series; the more I hear from you, the better this dialogue will be!



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